Get Started Using MemSQL for Free min read

MemSQL can handle many workloads completely for free, and it’s very easy to get started. The free edition of MemSQL can scale up to 128GB of RAM (total) and 32 CPU cores – enough power to process billions of records on just a few virtual machines.

See the video version of this guide.

This guide walks you through setting up a “cluster in a box”/single machine deployment using the MemSQL free license. It’s quick and easy. That said, with a little more work, you can use that same license to deploy on a small group of machines (multi-node cluster) for free. For more information about deploying a multi-node cluster, see this deployment guide.


This guide shows you how to quickly build a single-instance MemSQL cluster running on Docker Desktop, on a laptop computer, for free. You’ll need a machine with at least 8GB RAM and 4 CPUs. This is ideal for quickly provisioning a system to understand the capabilities of MemSQL’s SQL engine. Everything described in this guide will be running on your computer, and by using a Docker container, you do not need to install or configure much of MemSQL to get it running.

Here’s the process, with each step outlined below:

  1. Get a free MemSQL license
  2. Install Docker Desktop
  3. Create a Docker Compose file
  4. Start the MemSQL cluster through Docker
  5. Start MemSQL Studio

After following these steps, you’ll have a bare-bones MemSQL cluster running on your machine. After that, check out some possible next steps.


With specs well below MemSQL’s limits, performance will be atypical, and not suited for a production environment. However, you can use this setup to experience the full features of MemSQL, and understand how it applies to your business challenges.

  Cluster-in-a-box Multi-node Cluster
Hardware Laptop computer Many hefty servers
Best use-cases * Try out MemSQL
* Test MemSQL capabilities
* Prototyping
* Proof of concept (PoC)
* Production workloads
* High availability
Cost Free up to four nodes with 32GB RAM each, and with community support Free up to four nodes with 32GB RAM each, and with community support

For more information about deploying a multi-node cluster, see this deployment guide.

Sign Up for MemSQL

To get a free license for MemSQL:

  1. Register at and click the link in the confirmation email.
  2. Go to the MemSQL Customer Portal at and log in.
  3. Click Licenses and you’ll see your license for running MemSQL for free. This license never expires, and is good for clusters up to four machines and up to 128GB of combined RAM. This is definitely not the license you’ll want for a production cluster, but it’s great for “kick the tires” scenarios.
  4. Note this license key. You’ll need to copy/paste it into place next.

Install Docker Desktop

The first step in getting our MemSQL cluster running in Docker Desktop is to get Docker Desktop installed. If you already have a recent version of Docker Desktop, you need only ensure you’re in Linux containers mode.

Docker’s install requirements are quite specific, though most modern mid-range systems will do. Docker Desktop for Windows runs a Linux VM in Hyper-V, and Hyper-V requires Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise. Docker Desktop for Mac runs a Linux VM in xhyve, and requires a 2010 or newer model with macOS 10.13 or better.

To install Docker Desktop, go to Docker Hub and choose the Docker Desktop version for your operating system. The download will require you to create a free account. Run the downloaded installer and accept all the defaults.

Windows containers can run MemSQL too.

Note for Windows users: If you are doing a fresh install, ensure you choose “Linux Containers” mode. If you installed Docker previously, ensure you’re running in Linux Containers mode. Right-click on the Docker whale icon in the system tray (bottom-right by the clock), and choose Switch to “Linux Containers”. If it says “Switch to Windows Containers”, you’re already in Linux Containers mode.


Adding more RAM: Though not required, MemSQL will definitely perform better when Docker Desktop has more capacity. Click on the Docker whale icon, choose “Settings…” on Windows or “Preferences…” on Mac, and click on the “Advanced” tab. If your machine has more than 8GB RAM, set this to 8192. If your machine has 8GB RAM or less, set it as high as you can. Then change the CPU count from 2 to 4.

Create a Docker Compose File

A docker-compose.yaml file gives Docker Desktop instructions to spin up one or more containers together. It’s a great way to capture all the docker pull, docker build, and docker run details. This file doesn’t replace Dockerfile but rather makes it much easier to use the parameters.

We’ll use the memsql/cluster-in-a-box image built by MemSQL and available on Docker Hub. Pre-installed in this image is the MemSQL database engine and MemSQL Studio. The minimum system requirements are disabled in this “cluster-in-a-box” configuration.

Create an empty directory and create a file named docker-compose.yaml inside. Open this file in your favorite code editor and paste in this content:

version: '2'

    image: 'memsql/cluster-in-a-box'
      - 3306:3306
      - 8080:8080

A YAML file is a text file that’s great for capturing our architecture setup. As with Python source code, white space is significant. YAML uses two spaces, not tabs. Double-check the YAML file to ensure each section is indented with exactly two spaces. If you have more or fewer spaces, or if you’re using tabs, you’ll get an error on startup.

Here are the sections in the docker-compose.yaml file:

  1. Using Docker Compose syntax Version 2.
  2. The services array lists all the containers that will start up together. A single container is defined here, named memsql, which uses the memsql/cluster-in-a-box image built by MemSQL.
  3. The Ports section identifies inbound traffic that will route into the container. Open port 3306 for the database engine and port 8080 for MemSQL Studio. If either of these ports are in use on your machine, change only the left port. For example, to connect from outside Docker to the database on port 3307 use 3307:8080.
  4. The first environment variable, START_AFTER_INIT, exists for legacy reasons. Without this environment variable, the container will spin up, initialize the MemSQL cluster, and immediately stop. This is great for debugging, but not the point of this guide.
  5. The second environment variable, LICENSE_KEY, is the placeholder for the license you got from Don’t copy the license key into place here – you’ll accidentally leak secrets into source control. Instead, this syntax notes that you’ll reference an environment variable set in the terminal.

In time, you could easily add you application, business intelligence (BI) dashboard, and other resources to this file. If you have an existing docker-compose.yaml file, you can copy that content into place here too.

Save the file, and you’re ready to launch Docker.

Start the MemSQL Cluster

Open a new terminal window in the same directory as the docker-compose.yaml file. This could be Powershell, a command prompt, or a regular terminal.

First, set the license key as an environment variable. Copy the license from in the Licenses tab, and create an environment variable in the terminal:

Command prompt:

set LICENSE_KEY=paste_license_key_here


$env:LICENSE_KEY = 'paste_license_key_here'

Mac/Linux/Git Bash:

export LICENSE_KEY=paste_license_key_here

Paste your actual license key in place of paste_license_key_here. It’s a very long string and probably ends with ==.

Next, type this in the shell:

docker-compose up

This tells Docker to pull or build all the images, start up all the containers in our docker-compose.yaml file, and stream the console output from each container to our terminal.

If you get an error starting the cluster, double-check that the license key is correct and that Docker is running. If you get an image pull failure, ensure your network connection is working as expected. To retry, type Ctrl-C in the terminal, then type:

docker-compose down
docker-compose up

Congratulations! You’ve launched a MemSQL cluster. Now it’s time to dive in and start using it.

Start MemSQL Studio

Now that MemSQL is running in Docker, open a browser to http://localhost:8080 to launch MemSQL Studio. Click on the local cluster, enter a username of root, leave the password blank, and log in.

On this main dashboard screen, you can see the health of the cluster. Note that this is a two-node cluster. Clicking on Nodes on the left, you see one node is a leaf node, one is an aggregator node, and they’re both running in the same container. In production, you would want more machines running together to support production-level workloads and to provide high availability.

Click on the SQL Editor page. Copy and paste the following set of commands into the Query window. Then, highlight each individual command and click the Execute button in the top-right to run it. Continue to highlight and execute each command until all commands have been executed.

CREATE DATABASE hellomemsql;

USE hellomemsql;

  message text NOT NULL

INSERT INTO test (message) VALUES ('this is a sample message');


For more details on MemSQL Studio, check out the documentation or watch the MemSQL Studio tour video.

Next Steps

MemSQL is now ready for all your “kick the tires” tasks. Being able to run these tasks from such a simple setup is a real time-saver. However, don’t expect the same robustness or performance as you would have with a full install on a full hardware configuration.

Load Data

MemSQL supports a wide variety of data-loading scenarios, including ingesting from Kafka, S3, Spark, or other data sources. In general we recommend getting started via Pipelines.

  • Streaming data loads: Pipelines
  • One-time data load: LOAD DATA
  • app load: DML overview (page explaining our DML at a high level)

Read Data, Integrate, and Connect

MemSQL supports querying data via any driver or third-party tool which supports the MySQL wire protocol. This makes it super easy to get started. In general, if your tool of choice supports MySQL then it also supports MemSQL!

Hook up your analytics dashboard to MemSQL.

Add your application to the docker-compose.yaml file and connect it to MemSQL using any MySQL connector.

Get Help

Reach out for help on the MemSQL Forums.

Learn more about the product and features in the documentation.